Saturday, December 24, 2011

...And it's almost Christmas....

    I'm not going to waffle on about the long silence between blog posts. Just know that my New Year's resolution is to post more often. It's late afternoon on Christmas Eve, there's a cup of tea at hand, a nap in the offing, friends coming for aperos at 6:30 p.m., a table booked at the café for an hour later--and all the ingredients for the Christmas feast in the fridge, or in the making.
    I'm in the middle of foie gras preparation. It's been deveined, sprinkled with salt, pepper and some of Alain's legendary eau de vie. This morning, I wrapped it into a roll, and wrapped it in plastic. Next, I'll wrap it in cloth, poach it for 90 seconds, chill it, and rewrap it even more tightly with a second layer of cloth. This is the "torchon" method as spelled out by Michael Ruhlman.
     Yesterday, we were on the road before 9 a.m. and at Lavelanet market soon after. What a magical drive there with thick mist covering the fields, and steaming away into invisibility as we watched.

   With the mist gone, the sky was as blue as heaven.
The town was bustling, everyone in a convivial mood as they went about collecting their Christmas orders. I'd ordered a chapon--a capon--from the butcher's so we picked that up first and took it back to the car after the moment of terror when the butcher ran his finger down the hand-written list of names and couldn't find mine...

A corner of the butcher's shop. Note the silver  Christmas candelabra on the counter, and the row of cups awarded to "best butcher..." on the top of the sausage display case. Carcasses hang behind the wooden doors to the left.
   Chapon out of the way, it was time to whizz down the length of the market to the halles--and my favourite produce stall.
    The family who run this have a farm about half an hour away. Everything they sell, they grow. Can you make out the bright pink and red stalks of the chard? We got through a few kilos of that at a meal with friends earlier this week.
    No chard needed today but Brussels sprouts, parsnips, parsley, carrots, leeks, shallots, onions and garlic...the bags were getting heavy by now. I walked back outside on this bitingly cold day, and spotted Peter queueing to buy oysters which, like foie gras, are traditional at Christmas.

    While he waits patiently, I want to tell you about the profusion of seafood at this time of year. Earlier this week, we drove over to Pamiers where, among other places, we trawled the Carrefour supermarket. As well as the usual fish counter, pretty impressive at any time of year, there were two huge displays of oysters in wooden boxes, and a central table covered in seaweed, and heaped with live lobsters, crabs, langoustines, mussels and clams. (Next to it was a cooler the size of a bus filled with foie gras in various forms: pale beige lobes, vacuum-packed to be prepared at home, tins of different dimensions, slices...a colossal amount.)
    The other essentials in the Christmas triumvirate are champagne and Sauternes (or some other sweet wine) to sip with your foie gras.
     A bûche de Noël --a Christmas log--is the traditional dessert. So what's it to be? The Black Forest version? The "white lady" kind with vanilla and chocolate? Or a Norwegian omelette which, for reasons unknown, is the French name for Baked Alaska. Our friend Isabelle is bringing dessert so I can't tell you what we'll be eating....
    Merry Christmas to all--and to all a good night.

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